Crowdsourcing meets academia to transcribe Jeremy Bentham’s papers

From the New York Times via a friend’s Facebook feed:

Since University College London began transcribing the papers of the Enlightenment philosopher Jeremy Bentham more than 50 years ago, it has published 27 volumes of his writings — less than half of the 70 or so ultimately expected.

The painstaking job of transcribing often hard-to-decipher handwritten documents from history’s lead players — not to mention a lack of money — has meant that most originals are seen by a just a handful of scholars and kept out of the public’s reach altogether. After more than five decades, only slightly more than half of James Madison’s papers have been transcribed and published, while work on Thomas Jefferson’s papers, begun in 1943, probably won’t be finished until around 2025.

Now the scholars behind the Bentham Project think they may have come up with a better way: crowd-sourcing.

Starting this fall, the editors have leveraged, if not the wisdom of the crowd, then at least its fingers, inviting anyone — yes, that means you — to help transcribe some of the 40,000 unpublished manuscripts from University College’s collection that have been scanned and put online. In the roughly four months since this Wikipedia-style experiment began, 350 registered users have produced 435 transcripts.

These transcripts, which are reviewed and corrected by editors, will eventually be used for printed editions of the collected works of Bentham.

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